Much of the first night of the Democratic National Convention pitched the nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden as a "return to normalcy" as viewers were bombarded with politicians, celebrities, and ordinary Americans expressing their belief that Biden is a decent and honorable guy who might restore some sense of dignity to the country's highest office.
The most notable exception to that theme came from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), the democratic socialist who finished second to Biden in this spring's primary campaign.
Sanders, of course, paid the necessary lip service to Biden's centrist, restorative avatar as well, but the senator also used his speech to look forward, effectively committing a future President Biden to an impossibly long list of progressive policy goals, from promising a $15 national minimum wage to a nationwide shift to renewable energy sources:
Joe supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This will give 40 million workers a pay raise and push the wage scale up for everyone else.
Joe will also make it easier for workers to join unions, create 12 weeks of paid family leave, fund universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, and make child care affordable for millions of families.
Joe will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and fight the threat of climate change by transitioning us to 100 percent clean electricity over the next 15 years. These initiatives will create millions of good-paying jobs all across the country.
As you know, we are the only industrialized nation not to guarantee health care for all people. While Joe and I disagree on the best path to get to universal coverage, he has a plan that will greatly expand health care and cut the cost of prescription drugs. Further, he will lower the eligibility age of Medicare from 65 to 60.
To help reform our broken criminal justice system, Joe will end private prisons and detention centers, cash bail, and the school to prison pipeline.
Biden has shifted noticeably to the left during the past year—and he's done so by working closely with Sanders and some of Sanders' top campaign advisers to craft a 110-page proposal that does indeed include many of the ideas Sanders touched on in his convention speech. The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force's recommendations also include some things Sanders did not mention, like canceling up to $50,000 in student debt for individuals who find work as educators and adopting more restrictive trade policies, as Reason's Peter Suderman has noted.
But even after Biden has been forced to tack left by an increasingly progressive Democratic Party, it seems unlikely that he would be able to accomplish much of what Sanders has described. Transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy within 15 years would require effectively banning fossil fuels. Someone should ask California how that is working out. Ending cash bail is a good idea, but it's a state policy that the president has little control over. And raising the minimum wage (a mixed federal/state issue) when the unemployment rate is around 10 percent will likely only make it harder for unemployed people to find work. Indeed, some states are facing pressure to freeze planned minimum wage increases due to the economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifics aside, Sanders' speech at the virtual convention on Monday night was probably meant to accomplish two things: First, it's a signal to his most hardcore supporters that they should set aside any misgivings and vote for Biden in November—his lack of a full-throated endorsement for Hillary Clinton may have hurt her in 2016 (or at least she seems to think so). Second, it was meant to give Biden's rusty weather vane one more shove to the left.
But if progressives expect Biden to do all that, they will likely end up disappointed.